'Red,' 'Memphis' top Tony Awards

Denzel Washington, Scarlett Johansson also among winners

The winning color was "Red" and the place to be was "Memphis" on Sunday during the 64th annual Tony Awards.

John Logan's two-character biodrama "Red," about American abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, took home the night's largest haul, winning six awards, including top-play honors. It also won for Michael Grandage's direction and for featured actor Eddie Redmayne as the artist's assistant and verbal punching bag.

The production originated at London's Donmar Warehouse, marking the fourth time in five years that the top-play prize has gone to a transatlantic import.

Accepting that award, lead producer Arielle Tepper Madover said, "It is our duty as actors, directors, designers and fellow producers to do just what Rothko did, to inspire, engage and foster new artists to fall in love with our craft and make it their own."

In a race that inspired more ennui than excitement among pundits in the run-up to Tony night, "Memphis" was named best musical. The show, about a white DJ bringing black Beale Street sounds to the 1950s mainstream, opened in October to mixed reviews but has connected with audiences thanks to its high-energy dance numbers and hardworking cast, grossing $22 million to date.

The show's four Tonys included wins for score, a pastiche of period pop, rock, R&B and gospel by Bon Jovi keyboardist David Bryan and Joe DiPietro; book; and orchestrations.

"I'm having a total Sally Field moment here," a jubilant DiPietro said. "I don't know what to do."

Afrobeat musical "Fela!," a dance-driven portrait of Nigerian activist and musician Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, led the field with 11 nominations. But "Memphis" was given the edge by Tony prognosticators because of its perceived commercial advantage as a road property. The show has announced a national tour to launch in fall 2011 in the city of its setting.

"Fela!" won three awards, including a second Tony for co-creator/director Bill T. Jones' explosive choreography. Jones picked up the dance prize in 2007 for "Spring Awakening."

Winners in the revival categories were the 1985 August Wilson play "Fences" and the 1983 musical "La Cage aux Folles," which made history by becoming the only musical to win top Tonys for each of its three Broadway incarnations.

A playwright who traditionally has been an awards magnet for actors, the late Wilson's searing '50s-set family drama earned Tonys for lead actors Denzel Washington and Viola Davis.

It was Davis' second win for a Wilson drama, having scored for featured actress in 2001 with "King Hedley II." A major hit driven by across-the-board raves, "Fences" twice has broken house records at the Cort Theatre, recouping its $2.8 million capitalization in eight weeks.

Acting wins for Washington, Catherine Zeta-Jones in "A Little Night Music" and Scarlett Johansson in "A View From the Bridge" underscored the expanding intersection between Hollywood and Broadway. Major productions without marquee names, particularly of plays, are becoming increasingly unviable, as evidenced this season by the commercial struggle of the well-reviewed "Next Fall."

The "La Cage" revival was among the season's most unexpected success stories, winning three Tonys.

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Broadway insiders had approached the show's return with fatigue so soon after a lackluster 2004 revival, which landed a Tony by default in a year of slim competition. But lead producer Sonia Friedman, who shepherded the production from London's Menier Chocolate Factory to the West End and then to New York, was passionate about giving Rialto audiences the chance to see Douglas Hodge's performance as tantrum-prone drag materfamilias Albin.

Hodge repeated his Olivier win in London with a Tony for actor in a musical. Acknowledging co-star Kelsey Grammer, he said, "If you want to see a Democrat kissing a Republican, come to the Longacre Theatre."

Director Terry Johnson also was recognized for his work in stripping away the glitz to reveal the show's emotional heart, underscoring relevant themes at a time when same-sex marriage and gay-parent family issues are finding increased public, if not always legislative, acceptance.

That note was echoed in host Sean Hayes' opening dig: "Broadway is a welcoming community, so tonight we'd like to send a shout-out to any closeted right-wing politicians watching the program in secret."

In an assured and funny emcee turn in which he willingly played the clown (notably in "Billy Elliot" tights, "Annie" ringlets and full Spider-Man garb), Hayes measured up amply to Neil Patrick Harris' strong work piloting last year's kudocast.

His best line was directed at Bernadette Peters: "She's the B.P. that isn't ruining the planet."

Hayes also made the inevitable sly reference to recent controversy over a Newsweek.com opinion piece positing that out gay actors could not play straight, capping an exchange with "Promises, Promises" co-star Kristin Chenoweth with a messy tongue kiss and ass slap.

Best sports were "The Addams Family" co-stars and Tony shutouts Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth, deadpanning through their presentation of musical acting prizes. "The Tonys, or as we call it at my house, Passover," Lane quipped.

Aired live on CBS from Radio City Music Hall (and peppered with sound glitches), the ceremony opened with Hayes at the piano in a musical mash-up that went from Rachmaninoff to Burt Bacharach via Elvis, then on through Sinatra, Motown, Fela, Jerry Herman (lest anyone think there were no actual show tunes left on Broadway) to Green Day.

Although its wins were confined to two design awards, Green Day's "American Idiot" got more airtime and better exposure than any other show, which usually translates to a boxoffice boost.

In a bid to pump viewer appeal beyond the theater demographic, Broadway babies-turned-"Glee" stars Lea Michele and Matthew Morrison performed. Michele did one of her "Glee" numbers, "Don't Rain on My Parade," which might have been an unofficial audition for the 2012 Broadway revival of "Funny Girl."

The eternal debate over how to present nominated play segments in TV-friendly fashion has long stymied Tonycast producers. This year's attempt, with cast members describing their shows, didn't quite find a solution, though the computer-generated backdrops at least gave a feel for each play's design elements. A brisk run-through of the season's shows that mimicked Oscar montages was more successful.

In other awards, Broadway darlings Barbara Cook and Angela Lansbury were bested for featured actress in a musical by Katie Finneran in "Promises, Promises."

A previous Tony winner for featured actress in a play for "Noises Off" in 2002, Finneran this time pulled off a trick not unlike Judi Dench in "Shakespeare in Love"; her sozzled barfly doesn't appear until Act 2 of the show, then has a scant two scenes.

Broadway newcomer Levi Kreis won for featured actor in a musical for his role -- and dazzling piano skills -- as Jerry Lee Lewis in "Million Dollar Quartet."

The evening's most singular moment was during the pre-Broadcast creative arts presentation, when stage veteran Marian Seldes accepted the lifetime achievement award.

One of the most beloved figures in the New York theater community, famed as much for her professional discipline and graciousness as for her talents, Seldes, 81, abandoned the tradition of the gushing actor by remaining literally speechless, saying it all with her eyes.
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